The Grand Migration Bargain Begins

The Grand Migration Bargain Begins

European governments don't want to have any pesky migrants crossing the Mediterranean? Niger says it can arrange that, for a cool € 1 billion no less. That is the amount the Niger government told a delegation of E.U. foreign ministers it needs to curb the flow of illegal migrants through its territory. With Nigeria to the South and Libya to the North, Niger is currently an important stepping stone for African migrants who hope to reach Europe by sea.

Niger's government has been emboldened by the € 3 billion migration deal between the E.U. and Turkey, which was negotiated back in March. E.U. member states, it seems, are willing to pay virtually unlimited amounts of money to stop migrants from crossing into E.U. territory.

With up to 150.000 migrants estimated to pass through Niger per year, the E.U. will essentially be paying about € 6.600 per individual to Niger's government alone (assuming it agrees to Niger's demands). Talks are underway with authorities in Libya as well and several other African countries are already recipients of large sums related to migration control.

We are fast approaching the point where the E.U. could pay all migrants a sum equivalent to the average yearly income of some of the poorer E.U. member states. Or cover several months worth of health and unemployment insurance.

Given that migrants are a net economic positive for the receiving societies, paying vast amounts of money to keep them out obviously makes no sense at all. Instead, European governments are too cowardly (vis-à-vis racist and outspoken opposition on the streets) to take the necessary steps to implement a functioning path to legal migration, or are opposed to it on ideological grounds.

Europe of course is by and large a rich place and will be able to shoulder this "idiocy tax" one way or the other. The real damage is done in Africa (and Turkey), where repressive and malfunctioning regimes are legitimized by these kinds of bargains. To put matters into perspective: Niger's most recent public yearly military expenditure (2012) was $73.1 million. It's revised 2015 budget was $2.9 billion. If the E.U. pays even a fraction of the €1 billion per year, especially when designated for border protection and the combat of criminal people smugglers, tasks usually reserved for the security forces, it will essentially guarantee Niger's government financial and diplomatic immunity from any challenges domestic political opposition could pose to its power.